Later this year, the Water Council will open its Accelerator Building. Among the tenants will include startups from across the globe, eager to build their companies and connect with industry leaders through the Council. As a prelude to the first class of startups, we asked a local Milwaukee water entrepreneur, McGee Young, founder of H2Oscore, to describe his experiences. H2Oscore was launched in 2011 and provides water use dashboards primarily for residential end-users.
Attending my first Water Council quarterly meeting in January 2011, I was struck by the fact that 1) it was being held at a university; 2) CEO’s were mingling with students; and 3) there was a genuine enthusiasm for innovative technologies and companies in the water sector. The openness of the organization to outsiders and encouragement of new ideas inspired my Environmental Ethics and Policy class to look for a creative solution to the challenge of providing a sustainable supply of freshwater to growing communities.
After a semester of work, we developed a prototype for H2Oscore at a hackathon and then a few of us spent much of the next year working on various iterations of the software and the business model. Would we white label the dashboard and try to emulate WaterSmart Software? Would it look more like Zillow? Perhaps Mint was the right model?
Water Council connections helped us build an early critical partnership with the City of Whitewater. Newly installed smart meters and a fixed network meant the city was now receiving hourly readings from all of its customers. What benefits would residents see if given access to their personal water use data? Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater wanted to know how behavior would change, given this information, and set up a pilot program in which certain residents would be given access to H2Oscore and others would be held as a control group.
Next we wanted to solve the challenge of providing dashboards to a large city with a traditional metering infrastructure. Relationships established through the Water Council with the City of Milwaukee and and Milwaukee Water Works officials led to an arrangement whereby the city would provide the data and we would make dashboards available to all 130,000+ households and businesses.
At the 2012 Water Summit, we reached an agreement with the City of Waukesha to provide personal water use dashboards to that community. Despite its proximity to the Great Lakes, because of complicated laws the city faces a unique challenge to obtain a reliable supply of freshwater for its residents and businesses. We hope that H2Oscore will enhance existing conservation efforts by providing residents with a better understanding of their home water use.
Finally, at the end of 2012, we reached an agreement with the City of Madison to pilot real time dashboards as that city makes the transition from biannual billing to a fixed network of smart meters.
All of these developments are exciting and portend a great future for H2Oscore. But a startup is a search for a scalable, replicable business model as much as it is a great vision or a great product. The challenges related to growing a business are responsible for much of the mortality of startups. These are the valuable lessons we are learning and will be sharing in subsequent blog posts.
McGee Young is the Founder of H2Oscore. He is Associate Professor of Political Science and Entre-preneur Faculty Fellow at Marquette University. He is the author of Developing Interests: Organiza-tional Change and the Politics of Advocacy (Kansas 2010). He received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University and lives in Milwaukee with his wife and two daughters.